The Cabarrus County Commission unexpectedly made $3 million in cuts to the county budget Monday night. The cuts eliminate several jobs and all county funding for an economic development agency.
The three Republican county commissioners who voted for the cuts are lame ducks. All were defeated in last month’s primary. That didn’t stop Commissioner Jason Oesterreich from making this announcement Monday night:
"I am going to make a motion that we approve the managers budget with the budget changes enumerated in this additional handout, with the following amendments," Oesterreich tentatively said into the microphone as he passed out copies of a four-page motion to the board.
Oesterreich, who didn’t return calls for an interview, hadn't announced the cuts previously. It was the first time anyone had heard of them.
The cuts include removing funding for four library positions and four parks employees, eliminating a deputy county manager position, and denying funds for a new park at the Cabarrus and Union county line. The board approved the budget and the cuts by a 3-2 vote.
“The action that occurred last night was totally by surprise and - well, that may not be accurate to say, totally by surprise," says County Commissioner Steve Morris, who voted against the changes. “I was surprised by the content because I had no prior knowledge of what would be proposed, but I was not surprised by the technique.”
Morris says he voted against the changes because he didn’t have enough time to review them. He also says he doesn’t agree with many of the cuts, particularly the last item on the amendment that eliminates $332,000 for the county’s economic development agency, Economic Development Cabarrus. Oesterreich’s motion noted that the agency shares employees with the local Chamber of Commerce. He also cited financial problems from two-and-a-half years ago as evidence the agency doesn’t properly manage its budget. A third point of contention is the chamber getting involved in political issues, particularly immigration overhaul.
The loss represents 55 percent the agency’s budget, but CEO Patrick Coughlin - also president of the local chamber - says the office won’t close or reduce staff. Instead, he says it will have to rely more on private and municipal contributions.